First, the one really cool thing I got to do that related to the 2010 Blackhawks: I got to attend Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, in which the Hawks completed their sweep of the San Jose Sharks. It was the first NHL playoff game I’d ever attended and it was quite a thrill to see the conference trophy presentation immediately after the game, and to feel the noise and passion of the United Center crowd as they saw their team advance to the finals for the first time since 1992.
There is always a temptation to view that which has occurred as inevitable and unavoidable. I’m sure there are many Blackhawk fans who feel very deeply that this Stanley Cup victory was the inescapable, inevitable fulfillment of all of the team’s best-laid plans, their talent, and the irresistible force of their passionate fans. But nobody who follows the game with their head or with a sense of history can possibly take that position seriously.
If there really was a Team of Destiny this year, it would surely have been the Washington Capitals, so dominant in the regular season and so star-crossed in their franchise’s playoff history, finally seeming to have put it all together. Or perhaps it was supposed to be the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, ready to cement Sid the Kid’s place at the apex of the hockey world. Come to think of it, the best candidate for Team of Destiny had to have been the Montreal Canadiens, who shocked the hockey world by knocking off both the Capitals and the Penguins in the first two rounds of the playoffs before running out of gas against a spirited bunch of Philadelphia Flyers.
The argument for the Blackhawks as the Team of Destiny would be highlighted by a couple of factors: the 49 years since the franchise’s last Cup, and the meteoric rise in the team’s fortunes over just the last couple years. The pace of that rise seems to have picked up considerably in the 2+ years since the death of long-time owner Bill Wirtz. Before old man Wirtz’ fingers had gone cold or stopped spasming at his purse strings, the new regime had begun a drastic makeover of their hockey operations, especially in the areas of fan relations and media exposure. Those measures enabled the Hawks to capitalize on this season’s on-ice success in ways old Dollar Bill Wirtz would never have green-lighted.
The core of the Blackhawks team is still very young and should still be improving for years to come, which suggests that the Hawks may be hoisting the Cup a time or two more in the next decade. Even if that is the case – even if next year’s Hawks set a league record for victories and sweep all four rounds of the playoffs – I don’t think we’ll see another celebration close to what has swept through this town over the past week. Or to put it another way – if we DO see another celebration this huge, it will be manufactured by savvy marketers and cooperative media, whereas this year’s celebration was much more a genuine outpouring of Chicago passion, albeit helped along by those aforementioned savvy marketers.
Back for a moment to the Team of Destiny angle. There were big games and big plays through all four rounds of the playoffs. One night, it would be goalie Antti Niemi standing on his head to steal a game. Another night, it would be Marian Hossa or Patrick Kane or Dustin Byfuglien making the key play at the key moment to swing momentum or seal the deal. The Blackhawks didn’t win this Cup with smoke and mirrors – they won it with Talent (which you have to have) and Luck (which you also have to have). There are no apologies necessary for winning a game with luck. After all, as a wise man once said, “Luck is the residue of design.” So let’s grant them their luck and congratulate them on it.
Contrast that with this year’s Detroit Red Wings, who for various reasons, didn’t have quite enough talent nor quite enough luck when they really needed it. Just as luck was no excuse for the Hawks’ success, it was no excuse for the Wings’ failure. You take it either way and get ready for next season, with or without any extra bling for your trouble.
I will peer into my crystal ball now and make a prediction or two about next season. Not about the Blackhawks themselves; no, the crystal is cloudy on that question, outside of a general conviction that the Hawks are going to be pretty damned good. The crystal’s images are much clearer regarding some other matters though…
First, in a year’s time, we will be treated to the “Last Year’s Team Would’ve Totally Beaten These Guys Syndrome.” We may be spared this scenario if the Hawks repeat, but otherwise, you may rest assured that certain fans will loudly proclaim that 2010 Blackhawks would have steamrolled whoever is hoisting the Cup a year from now. I can tell you from experience that there is no point in arguing either side of the question too strenuously, particularly if one is sober, since the entire matter is conveniently untestable and unanswerable.
My next prediction concerns the as-yet unknown Soon-To-Be-Former Blackhawks. I predict that a moment will come when one of them takes a cheap shot at a Blackhawk, or perhaps runs over their goalie. At that moment, he will officially reveal himself as a Bad Guy, perhaps as someone whose character has taken a clear turn for the worse under the sinister influence of his new teammates.
OK, I take it back – I will attempt to make one serious prediction about the Hawks team. Yes, the Hawks are going to lose a few guys that will be missed. They will be replaced by some relatively unheralded guys, and I think those guys are, for the most part, going to do okay. Those new guys are going to be supported by a core of talented players who are going to help the new guys a lot, either by setting a strong example or by making up for the new guys’ deficiencies. I think the Hawks have a great chance to be a better team next year than they were this year. It’s important to note, though, that this is very different from predicting another Stanley Cup. I can’t predict that for any team because winning the Cup isn’t about being the best team; it’s about being the Hot Team and being the Lucky Team. But the Hawks will definitely be on the short list of teams that won’t need nearly as much luck as most other teams, which gives them a legitimate shot at it. And that’s all you can really ask for.